Various types of sleep disorders, such as bruxism, or a sleep related breathing disorder, such as snoring or sleep apnea, can frequently be treated with dentistry. Bruxism is the technical term for clenching & grinding. Bruxism can be disastrous for your teeth. Aside from the typical jaw joint pain & frequent headaches associated with bruxism, this condition can literally destroy the teeth over time. Full mouth crowns or full dentures are sometimes our only options for people that experience severe bruxism over many years.
Snoring is a socially unacceptable behavior. Severe snorers are often kicked out of the bedroom by a frustrated spouse. A person that snores may be embarrassed to go on a group camping trip or share a hotel room with a friend. Snoring is caused by a partial airway blockage & can lead to severe health consequences.
Sleep apnea is, by far, the sleep disorder that causes the greatest detriment to a person’s health. During sleep apnea, the tissues & muscles in the back of the throat collapse the airway. The person will struggle unsuccessfully to bring air into the lungs. The oxygen in the blood begins to decrease. Before death actually occurs, the brain causes the individual to wake up. He or she does so gasping for air. The cycle is repeated throughout the night with the person usually unaware of the events.
A person suffering with sleep apnea is tired during the day. Sleep does not refresh them because they never are able to reach deep stages of sleep. Severe sleep apnea can cause a person to wake up every two or three minutes. Severe sleep apnea is conclusively linked to an increased risk of heart attack & stroke. Evidence suggests that sleep apnea can shorten a person’s lifespan between 8 & 30 years.
Currently, the three most effective methods of treatment for sleep apnea are:
- Surgical removal of the uvula along with a portion of the soft palate. Some people are not a candidate for this procedure. The surgery would affect their speech (cleft palate syndrome). For those individuals who are successfully treated, the benefits do not appear to last. After a period of time, the snoring & sleep apnea frequently returns.
- Use of a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP). This is an apparatus with a nose mask connected by a thick tube to an air compressor that pushes air into the nose continuously throughout the night. The constant air pressure successfully keeps the airway open. However, the device is difficult to adapt to & research reveals that 50% of people on CPAP are non-compliant after three months. One CPAP user describes his experience like trying to sleep while having your head out the window driving 50mph.
- Use of a dental appliance referred to as an anti-snoring dental device. As little as 2-3 visits to the dentist to be fitted for a laboratory created, custom-fitted appliance that is worn by the person at night. After the device is placed in the mouth, the person inserts a thin key & then turns it clockwise. This gradually brings the lower jaw forward & with it the tongue. This same principle is used to open the airway when giving CPR to an unconscious victim. Some users complain that their jaw muscles are tight or sore the following morning. The soreness, if occurring at all, usually goes away after a few minutes & this complication tends to improve as the person’s jaw adapts to a new position.
To successfully treat bruxism, snoring & sleep apnea, a thorough examination should be performed. The course of treatment depends on the information gathered while making the diagnosis. Options should be considered, & discussed, evaluating the possible benefit & risk with each individual case. Dental appliances are frequently effective, less invasive, & less expensive than other options of therapy available.